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An image illustrating studying design with The Open University The uniqueness of our research lies in the emphasis on the generic aspects of design activity, rather than developing specific disciplinary areas. The Design Group is a unique teaching and research unit comprising a multidisciplinary team of staff who approach design as a natural human ability but also as a special skill or practice that can be nurtured through design education. Research in design embraces a broad range of subject areas including product and information design, engineering design, fashion, architecture, transport, town planning and policy. The uniqueness of our research is that we try to understand and promote design thinking and design processes in different professional applications and subject domains. This includes supporting professional practice, studying the complex processes and environments within which design activity and products are situated, as well as understanding how design activity can become a vehicle for innovation and sustainability. The group collaborates widely with design practitioners, industry, academia and policy makers in the UK and the worldwide.

The Design group welcomes research student applications for full and part-time studentships. Current and past PhD project areas can be viewed here. Also explore different design academic profiles to understand the areas of research that we are currently interested in.

We are also part of Design Star, an AHRC funded Doctoral Training Centre in Design. Other consortium partners include Brighton University, Goldsmith College University of London, Loughborough University and the University of Reading. For further information on funded Design Star research studentships and on qualification and residency requirements visit the Design Star homepage. For further information on OU Design Star research areas and application processes visit our Design pages

Key facts

  • Design at The Open University was ranked third out of 71 submissions to the UK’s 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).
  • 45 per cent of the Design Group’s research was graded ‘internationally excellent’ and 35 per cent as ‘world leading’ in the 2008 RAE submission.
  • PhD students have at least two supervisors and a separate third-party monitor to help mentor and ensure good practice.
  • PhD students are core contributors to the Design Group’s research culture, with regular seminar programmes in Milton Keynes.
  • Members of the group have secured resources from major research funders such as The Leverhulme Trust, the EU, EPSRC, AHRC and JISC.
  • A leading international design research journal Design Studies was launched from this department in 1979 and still maintains strong links with the group through the editorial board.


The group has a suite of design research laboratories and is prioritising full-time research degrees that make use of these facilities:

  • Complexity Science and Design Laboratory
  • Design Observatory
  • FabLab
  • Robotics and Autonomous Systems Laboratory
  • Digital Media Laboratory.

Further information

If you have an enquiry specific to this research area please contact:

Dr Emma Dewberry
+44 (0)1908 332940

For general enquiries please contact the Research Degrees Team via the link under 'Your Questions' on the right of the page.